Whole Leaf Tobacco

Soviet Tobacco

DistillingJim

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Whenever I read cold war era books, there seems to be an ongoing theme that the tobaccos used by the soviets were somehow inferior to those grown and consumed in the west. I know a lot of members have grown and smoked bulgarian/hungarian tobaccos and so I put out to the forum - what was the cause of the percieved inferiority? Was it the seed? The growing conditions? Poor manufacturing? Or was it actually fine and the narrative was simply anti-communist propaganda? Genuinely curious if anyone has any insight into this.
 

deluxestogie

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That is a fascinating question. It is true that some Soviet era cigarettes were long on the filter and short on the tobacco, but that was for the practical reason that gloves and mittens were thicker.

I purchased some Bulgarian cigarettes in an East Berlin department store, back during the Cold War. I can attest that they were truly horrid. Now, this may just be luck of the draw (bad choice of brand), or merely a matter of taste. But I can say the same about the Gauloises cigarettes I purchased in Paris.

Back to the question of the Soviets, their agricultural endeavors in all fields were hampered for nearly half of the twentieth century by their enforcement of official programs that were based on harebrained (non-scientific) theories. Lysenko, who was head of their Academy of Agricultural Sciences, refused to believe in genetics, and embarked on catastrophic methods of crop development. Soviet agricultural leadership didn't see the scientific light until the mid 1960s. Whether or not this impacted their tobacco, I can't say.

Another issue is the blending use of Nicotiana rustica in Soviet cigarettes. The US cigarette industry simply doesn't use it, and never has, so far as I know.

But in most of the places that I've traveled in the world, the local people happily trade their domestic cigarettes for American brands. I attribute this not to quality, but to trends in smoking preferences. In Mexico, for example, prominently carrying a pack of Benson & Hedges cigarettes in one's shirt pocket seemed to be regarded as a symbol of enhanced status.

By contrast, on college campuses in the US during the 1970s, prominently carrying a pack of Dunhill or Balkan Sobranie cigarettes in one's shirt pocket was indeed a symbol of sophistication.

Bob
 

OldDinosaurWesH

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Having grown several Ostrolist varieties of tobacco, and I can say that there is nothing wrong with the tobacco itself. I have grown four different Ukrainian varieties and one Yugoslavian variety, and all are acceptable varieties for cigarette production. My latest is called Ostrolist 316, and the jury hasn't come in on that one yet as I haven't had a chance to kiln any. All I can say is that Ostrolist 316 grows well, is very productive, and color cures easily. 316 will get 8 feet tall and produce 30 - 35 fairly large leaves. (Up to 26 x 14 inch size.) All good attributes for any tobacco type. As for taste, who knows? Last year I grew Ostrolist 6. Ostrolist 6 grew well, was moderately productive, and cured easily. The finished tobacco was a little strong for my taste, but otherwise completely acceptable.

I have only heard that Soviet era cigarettes were awful. I have no experience in that regard. Probably, since the Soviet Union broke up, the research guys in Ukraine have made substantial improvements in their seed lines. I know that wheat farming in Ukraine and Russia is decades behind western standards. They still grow the old land-race varieties that have fewer chromosomes than modern wheats. (Tetraploid vs, Hexaploid.) Maybe the post-Soviet era has brought some progress to their tobacco endeavors also.

Wes H.
 

ChinaVoodoo

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My Ostrolist and ternopolski flue cured fine, but I would say that the leaves are larger and thinner than western flue cured tobaccos. They don't darken up as much in the pressure cooker and are less sweet and more smooth on the tongue. Air cured Ostrolist tips are very robust and useful. Overall, I do prefer the western flue cured varieties that I've tried for weight, pliability, sweetness, and flavor.

My Latvian friend says Soviet cigarettes are terrible too.
 

OldDinosaurWesH

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I have grown Ternopolskii 7 and 14. I preferred the 7. This is why I re-grew T-7 this year. Ternopolskii 7 is sweeter and milder than T-14. T-7 also produces fewer suckers. T-14 is stronger in flavor and has a harsher bite on the tongue. T-14 also suckers like mad. I will continue to grow T-7 as a standard item for an "American" blend style tobacco. T-14 not so much.

I am very hopeful about Ostrolist 316. As I said above, it is easy to grow, has good yields, and colors down easily. The proof will be in the finished product. A couple of months from now.

And of course, everyone's tastes are a little different.

Wes H.
 
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